On the Path Toward Living Wild
Thoughts on Lynx Vilden’s Stone Age Immersion Program
Since I dropped out of high school in 1998 and dedicated my life to returning to a more indigenous lifestyle, to rewilding, I spend my time divided between working odd jobs, reading, writing, learning, teaching, community organizing and wild-crafting. Early on I realized that primitive technology is a bi-product of a sustainable culture, but a sustainable culture is not the by-product of primitive technology; primitive skills are the superficial layer of indigenous people. I prefer the cultural, social, mental and permacultural aspects of rewilding because they are more foundational to creating culture. This is not to say that there are not important aspects of learning primitive technology that can aid in the creation of a sustainable culture. The superficial layer is still an important layer of culture. In order to fully understand this, I decided to dedicate the summer of 2012 to focusing purely on the crafting of primitive technology.
One of the most inspiring people teaching these crafts is Lynx Vilden and her school the Living Wild School. I have known about her for years and always wanted to attend her program. I signed up for her summer immersion program, a three month long program that culminates with living in the wilds for the final month, with only “stone age” gear; no metal, no plastic. I had an amazing and challenging time and I learned a great deal. These are my thoughts about my experience.
This is a fantastic program for gaining proficiency in primitive skills. Even before the classes started, I was already gaining proficiency in skills. The list of required items to bring this year made it clear that this was not a class for beginners. I had to show up with a minimum of 6 large brain-tanned deer skins. While I had tanned a couple deer skins before, I did not have proficiency. I spent about two months of preparation working on all the things that I needed to bring with me. Each week of the program had a different theme: buckskin clothes, containers, felted blankets, fishing kits, etc. Every day we would get up and begin working on crafts together or on our own when we needed space. After weeks of working on projects and crafting with our hands we became much more proficient in crafting skills.
Practical application of primitive technology is what makes the Living Wild School unique. Learning how to craft primitive technology is only half the experience: you must learn to use the crafts in practical ways. Lynx Vilden is doing something that not many others in this country are doing: teaching and experimenting with using primitive technology on a day to day basis, deep in the woods. We learned nuances of using primitive tools that you could only learn through real world application. Things like how to make arrows for target practice, how to lift a clay pot from the coals, how to fix rawhide sandals with a bone awl under the moonlight, and how to adjust a tumpline on a pack basket. One morning after a cold night I spent the day stitching up my wool blanket to create a draft-free sleeping bag. Another day I stitched ties onto my fur hat to keep it from falling off during the night. Everyday we would spend a little time tweaking our tools to better match our needs and the demands of the environment. Crafting primitive skills is fun and great, but gaining experience in real life application completes the knowledge base. In my mind, this is the most important aspect of what Lynx teaches.
Living in close quarters with others who are enthusiastic about and experienced with primitive technology felt priceless. I consider myself an out-going recluse. I like social engagement, but often feel too much anxiety to leave the house. Meeting new people, putting myself in someone else’s program, these are things I rarely do. It was worth it. I made a lot of friends, and even when there was drama it almost felt like it was created just to change up the monotony of our lives. Having people to share knowledge with, to experiment and learn with, helped to maximize my goal of proficiency. This is the amazing power of collective knowledge and experience; you can learn a lot more from a group than from a single person. This bridged the gap between classes when Lynx was off taking care of other business.
Living outdoors for the summer changed me. There were many things that I learned that were not directly related to crafting primitive skills, but from making a transition from living on the grid, to living off the grid. For the first two and a half months we were camped in the woods. Meals were cooked over fires, food was kept cool in holes that we dug in the ground, we hauled water from the spring and from the faucet across a large meadow. This was challenging for me, particularly because of my diet and bowel problems. At first I wanted to leave, feeling very stressed from not having a system and routine that kept my body comfortable and my IBS symptoms in check. By the middle of the summer I felt like I was flying. I never wanted to live indoors or cook on a regular stove again. There was no revelation, no powerful transformation. This change was gradual, as my comforts expanded and routines strengthened and became easier. It also didn’t turn me into a must-live-outdoors fundamentalist. I really love living outdoors, but I’m not a missionary now. It just feels good and I’m going to figure out how I can continue to live in a similar way here at my home.
In reality, we weren’t living wild. We were simply camping, with modern-made primitive tools. There wasn’t much that separated us from other mountain back-packers other than our clothes and tools. Our stone age human ancestors lived sustainably on the planet for hundreds of thousands of years, tending the wild through regenerative methods of food production. Their myths, culture and traditions passed on this knowledge and kept the land and people healthy and happy. This is what “living wild” looks like to me: people living in cooperative groups, managing the land in a regenerative manner. We did not learn cooperative group dynamics. We did not learn regenerative land management. Sure, we were hunting and gathering, but not like hunter-gatherers. This was my one caveat with the program: looking wild is not the same thing as living wild.
Looking wild has deeply subconscious benefits to rewilding. There is a reason people say “Appearances are everything.” In a recent study, volunteer participants were asked to take a test. Half of them wore white coats that they were told was a doctor’s jacket, while the other half wore white coats they were told was a painter’s jacket. The results showed that people, when wearing the doctor’s lab coat, scored higher on the tests than those wearing the painter’s coat. These were, in reality, the same coat. Their perception of themselves changed depending on what they were wearing, and how those clothes are perceived. Image is perception and perception carries the ability to alter how you think. People often act as though “superficial” things like a persons image do not effect us. In reality, it does and on a very deep level.
What Lynx has done with her programs is create inspirational imagery of white people–who have no real life record of indigenous imagery–looking indigenous, without stealing from native cultures. Beyond what Lynx’s program does for creating proficiency in her students, the imagery she creates does an amazing job of giving us back a modern, visual, indigenous identity. Lynx is an artist and her students become her models. The images strike a cord deep in people, of ancestral remembrance. They seem to say, “It is possible for us to reclaim this identity.” The photographs of the programs she runs have much more reach than the limits of her class size; viewers on her website can pour over the iconic images that sit on every page. Everyone I know who has gone to her website has felt a spark of inspiration. The dream for many, becomes actualized in these images. These images are altering the way we think about ourselves and about our indigenousity. This is huge. These benefits need to be studied and examined in depth.
My few criticisms come with an expiration date. As the rewilding movement continues to grow, it is absorbing the primitive skills community. Primitive skills are becoming a gateway to rewilding. As this happens, the principles of indigenous land management and social organization models are becoming more foundational to understanding and practicing primitive skills. As Lynx’s program grows and changes, these principles with undoubtably become rooted in the experience. The goal, after all, is living wild and living wild can only be accomplished through adapting traditions of tending the wild.
More than a teacher, a leader, or a guide, Lynx is a catalyst. Lynx is pushing the edge of primitive skills further towards rewilding, by making it about actually using the technology to live. Through the people she teaches, inspires and brings together, through re-creating indigenous identity, she plays a major role in the rewilding renaissance and I am glad to have met her and got to know her over the summer. I look forward to seeing her continue to give people the experience that I had this summer, and to watch how the larger community benefits and grows together.
I highly recommend this program. Check it out here: www.lynxvilden.com